News / 28 oktober 2015

Can RSPO help prevent future forest fires in Indonesia?

For the past two months, large parts of the rainforests on Sumatra, Kalimantan and other Indonesian islands have caught fire. Each year, parts of these forests are burnt to the ground to make room for palm oil production. An illegal and completely unacceptable practice. This year, though, the fires have become even more violent than usual as the rainy season has not yet arrived. A gigantic amount of smoke has even reached and affected neighboring countries Malaysia and Singapore, and serious respiratory problems – as well as casualties - among the local population are some of the direct consequences of these forest fires. Paul Wolvekamp of Both ENDS has been closely involved in the problematic issues surrounding the production of palm oil.

Sustainable palm oil

“In 1997, Both ENDS was one of the first NGOs to draw attention to the issue of unregulated expansion of palm oil plantations and its underlying causes. The need to address the mounting problems of deforestation, forest fires and land grab led to the establishment of the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO): a global, multi-stakeholder initiative on sustainable palm oil. Members of RSPO include plantation companies, traders, consumer goods manufacturers, the retail industry, financial institutions, and environmental NGOs and social NGOs from countries that produce or use palm oil. The overarching vision and the main goal of RSPO is to transform the market and make sustainable palm oil the norm.” 



Both ENDS has been a member of RSPO since 2005. “I am convinced that RSPO can play an important role in the fight against illegal palm oil production and deforestation.” Wolvekamp is Board member of RSPO, where he represents members of civil society organizations. To contribute to RSPO’s mission, Both ENDS has set the following goals: ensure that all RSPO members follow through with agreements, especially concerning the enforcement of ‘zero-burning’, respecting land rights, and protecting forests and other natural areas that are of ecological value. To reach these goals, it is necessary to work more proactively with governments and civil society organizations in producing countries. It is also important that RSPO strengthens its connection with local organizations – a task Wolvekamp is committed to within RSPO. “The focus is on informing local civil society organizations about RSPO and on what guidelines plantation companies should follow. We will have to include local organizations in RSPO’s mission, to have them as a watchdog, an intermediary agent for local village communities, and as a participant in governing RSPO. These organizations play a very crucial role in locally overseeing the enforcement of agreements, such as those we have mutually agreed upon as RSPO members.”


Thwarted by the government

Back to the forest fires in Indonesia: RSPO aims to strictly monitor its members’ adherence to zero-burning policies. At the request of RSPO, WRI’s Global Forest Watch oversees the local situation of the plantations in Indonesia via satellite images. RSPO has also commissioned an investigation into the alleged involvement of several of its members in arson. However, one big obstacle is the fact that the Indonesian government’s own regulation of the plantation sector is far from adequate. Moreover, neither the Indonesian nor the Malaysian government wants the cadastral data and maps of the plantations to be made public. This of course significantly thwarts RSPO’s work.


Click here to watch a short fragment of an interview with Paul Wolvekamp about RSPO


Photo: CIFOR (flickr/creative commons)


Read more about this subject